Beginnings: In 1921, Pastor W. Leitz, pastor of St. Peter Lutheran Church of Halfway, now Eastpointe, recognized the neighborhood in northeast Detroit as a likely spot for a new Lutheran Church. He made a recommendation to the Mission Board of the Michigan District of the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod (LCMS) to begin a new ministry.
Pastor Theodore H. H. Dorn - First Pastor: The story of Mt. Calvary actually begins in 1921 when the Mission Board of the Michigan District of the LCMS called a graduate of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, Missouri, to start a Lutheran congregation in northeast Detroit. Pastor Dorn was installed in October of the same year. For several months, worship services with a few people were held in the front room of a home at 11455 Barlow.
Our Savior Congregation was Born: Seven families comprised the charter members. In these years only men could vote in the church. Therefore, there were only seven voting members moving forward in faith to grow the congregation. The maxim "in unity there is strength" proved its validity in their midst. The Michigan District of the LCMS granted a loan to be used to purchase property and a house of worship.
First Building and Name Change: Four lots were purchased on the corner of Chalmers and Seymour and the first house of worship was dedicated in October of 1922. The first story of the bungalow was converted into a chapel and the second story was used as the pastor's residence. This first building would later become the parsonage until 1942 when it was moved and sold. Shortly after the completion of the chapel, the new congregation's name was changed to Montclair Heights Ev. Lutheran Church.
Sunday School Begins: In the Fall of 1922, Sunday School began for the children. By Christmas, 35 children were enrolled. The Sunday School would eventually peak at approximately 400 children.
Day School Begins: In February 1923, 12 children gathered around the pastor's dining room table as the first step towards establishing a Christian Day School. Soon student desks were obtained and the school was held in the chapel. On Fridays, the desks were moved to the porch so Sunday worship could take place. Of course, the desks needed to be put back so school could resume on Mondays.
Portable School Building: In 1924, a portable school was built next to the chapel. The $3000 building was dedicated on December 7 of the same year and served as the school until 1930.
Charter and a New Name: 1924, the congregation became a member of the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod, at the Synodical convention in Frankenmuth. In 1926, the name was changed to Mt. Calvary Ev. Lutheran Church.
Change of Spiritual Leadership: Early in 1929, Pastor Dorn accepted a call to a congregation in Chicago. Later in 1929, Pastor Ernest Kuechle became the new pastor.
New Sanctuary: In August of 1930, ground was broken for a more permanent building for the church and school. Zoning became a problem. However, it was resolved and the cornerstone was laid in November of 1930. On March 15, 1931, the two-room school and the church basement were dedicated. The basement served as a place of worship for 10 years.
Another Leadership Change: Pastor Kuechle accepted a call to a large congregation in Wisconsin in November of 1937. One month later, Pastor Louis H. Koehler, from Barrien Springs, Michigan, accepted Mt. Calvary's call to be their shepherd. The membership was now over 500 members.
Pastor Louis H. Koehler
Church Building: Building once again began to complete the church. On April 20, 1941, the church was dedicated.
1939-1947: During these years, Mt. Calvary was blessed with vicars from the two LCMS seminaries.
A Second Pastor: In 1949, the congregation called a second pastor. Pastor Charles M. Looker was installed in June. He remained for almost 12 years. In 1961, Rev. Edwin Rossow took his place.
Pastor Charles M. Looker
School Building: The school building had become too small. Mt. Calvary purchased three more lots. The school adjoining the church was dedicated on April 19, 1953. Six additional classrooms were constructed, which provided space for more than 200 children.
1955 - A Year of Hardships: During 1955, the church was burglarized several times, and the organ, part of the chancel, and the Altar Guild room were destroyed by an arson fire. Damage from the fire came to about $45,000, of which $40,000 was covered by insurance. In October, between the two Sunday morning worship services, a car went out of control and drove upon the sidewalk in front of the church killing one of the members and injuring eleven others, four of whom were hospitalized with broken limbs.
1965: Through the generosity of one of the member families, the air conditioner and carillon were installed in 1965.
Membership: In 1966, membership at Mt. Calvary peaked with 1326 communicant members and approximately 1850 souls.
More Additions: In 1966 another lot was purchased. In 1967, the tower for the church, additional classrooms, school library, and auditorium were added. This is how the physical structure of Mt. Calvary remains today.
Loss of a Pastor: Pastor Koehler retired from Mt. Calvary in 1969 after serving the congregation for close to 32 years. Pastor Rossow continued as the shepherd of the church until 1975.
Pastor Edwin Rossow
Pastor O'Brien: In 1972, Rev. Pat O'Brien joined Pastor Rossow as a spiritual leader of Mt. Calvary. Upon the loss of Pastor Rossow in 1975, the search for a second pastor began.
Pastor Pat O'Brien
Pastor Astalos: Rev. Ronald Astalos was installed in 1976 and served with Rev. O'Brien until 1982. Pastors O'Brien and Astalos both left in 1982.
Pastor Ronald Astalos
Pastor Heller: In the same year, Mt. Calvary was blessed with Rev. David Heller until 1987. Rev. Robert Chadwick, associate pastor, served alongside Rev. Heller from 1983 until 1985.
Pastor David Heller
Preschool Established: In 1982, a preschool was jointly established with Redemption Lutheran Church. Later the preschool became solely sponsored by Mt. Calvary. Due to low enrollment numbers, it closed in 2006.
Pastoral Vacancy: After a two year vacancy, Pastor Gerald Grimm was installed in 1989 where he remained until 2002.
Pastor Gerald Grimm
Organ: In 1995, the organ went through an extensive renovation and a 5-bell Cymbelstern was added. In 2015, further repairs were completed.
Sanctuary Rededicated: In 1999, the sanctuary was painted, renovated, and rededicated.
Pastor Hill: After the short tenure of Pastor Sean Ballard in 2003, Mt. Calvary was once again vacant. Pastor James M. Hill was called to lead Mt. Calvary beginning in 2005 and remained until 2015.
Pastor James Hill
School Closed: In 2005, the Christian Day School was closed due to low enrollment. Detroit had seen over a 60% reduction in population, and the neighborhood surrounding Mt. Calvary was no exception.
Head Start Preschool: In January, 2007, a Head Start Preschool began and is currently operating at capacity on the first floor of the school building with 90 students.
2011: The entire basement of Mt. Calvary was renovated after flooding.
Present Pastor: In December, 2015, Pastor John Carrier became the interim pastor of Mt. Calvary Church. Membership had declined significantly with worship attendance now averaging 20 on Sundays.
Camp Restore Detroit: On May 6, 2017, Mt. Calvary began a new start-up: Camp Restore Detroit. Mt. Calvary began supplying overnight housing for volunteers who want to give hope and make a difference in the lives of the residents of Detroit. Campers are housed on the second floor of the school building and have use of the large gym and lunchroom in the basement.
New Playscape:On July 22, 2017, with a grant from KaBOOM! and donations, a new playscape was constructed by over 70 volunteers! It was made available for use by Head Start students and children of the community.
95th Anniversary Celebration: On October 22, 2017, Mt. Calvary celebrated 95 years of blessings. I John 3:1, See what kind of love the Father has given to us, served as the theme verse. The preacher was Pastor Pat O'Brien, the lector was Pastor Gerald Grimm, and Pastor John Carrier was the liturgist for the celebration worship which was attended by many members and guests. The celebration continued after worship with a luncheon at Lakeland Banquet and Event Centre in St. Clair Shores.
Moving Toward 100 Years: The story of Mt. Calvary continues with a renaissance taking place. An exciting new life. The story began with only a few faithful people, and the determined members of Mt. Calvary are continuing to trust God to see the ministry grow again. In the summer of 2016, plans began to celebrate the 95th year while anxiously building toward the 100th anniversary of Mt. Calvary. That same year, lots surrounding the church were purchased with the intention to purchase more. Expansion! So much is happening by the grace of God!
The Future: Members thinking outside the box, stepping out in faith, and knowing God's hand is in their story - past, present, and future - will continue to see God's blessings in and through the ministry of Mt. Calvary. "In unity there is strength" was the maxim of the forefathers, and its validity is once again being proven in the present. Become part of Mt. Calvary's story, you will be welcomed into a wonderful family of God's people.